Pork producers dispute available amount of distillers grains

By Kris Bevill | July 12, 2011

There are approximately 67,000 pork producers in the U.S. and the vast majority of them are incorporating distillers grains into their feed diets, but some are concerned that there isn’t as much product available as estimates claim. In testimony delivered to the House agriculture committee earlier this year, the National Pork Producers Council said it believes the USDA is overestimating the amount of distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) that are returnable to livestock producers and that low estimates could affect its industry’s viability. “For the most part producers will adjust to higher feed grain prices, but there’s not much they can do about a lack of available supplies,” the group stated in its testimony.

Steve Meyer, president of Paradigm Economics, serves as a consultant for the NPPC on economic matters and said the group’s position on DDGS availability is based on anecdotal evidence received from ethanol producers. “The rule of thumb is 17 pounds of DDGS per bushel of corn. We’ve heard that yields are more like 15 to 16 pounds in most plants,” he said. “It’s not a huge reduction, but in a world that needs as many ingredients as we can get our hands on, we need to be clear about how many pounds of DDGS are being produced per bushel so we get a good accounting of it.”

Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University, said there is a valid reason to believe that the rule of thumb for calculating distillers grains production may be outdated. He said the USDA’s pound per bushel ratio was developed years ago and ethanol yields on average have increased since that time. “We’re able to get more ethanol out, but it comes at a slight reduction in distillers grains,” he said, adding that the implementation of new technologies such as fractionation would further reduce the amount of DDGS available to livestock producers.

The USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service is in the process of evaluating the use of the product by livestock producers, but results won’t be available until September 2012. It is unclear whether the USDA is conducting an up-to-date analysis of the amount of distillers grains produced, but input from ethanol producers gained through the NASS study could provide that information. Meyer said most pork producers use DDGS in their feed, up to 40 percent for some younger pig and sow diets. “The progressive producers are using as much of it as they can in their diets given the situation that it can cause with fat quality,” he said. Too much DDGS right before slaughter can cause pork belly fat to become sticky and difficult to slice, therefore producers often dial back the amount of DDGS fed in the last few weeks of feeding, he said.

Matt Hartwig, communications director for the Renewable Fuels Association, said that while DDGS yield will vary by plant and technology, there is plenty of feed available from ethanol plants to meet demand. “Ethanol producers will provide nearly 40 million metric tons of feed this year, with one-quarter or more likely bound for the export market,” he said.